Today’s column is about mondegreens. These are not vegetables. “Mondegreen” is the term for a misheard lyric.
The other day, I bought a CD of ’60s hits and found myself singing along in the car with Percy Sledge: “When a maaaan loves a wal-nut . . . .”
I never actually thought that’s what Sledge was saying (I didn’t!). But “When a Man Loves a Walnut” is the title of a favorite book, a hilarious collection of misheard lyrics compiled by author Gavin Edwards.
I used to have one of the book’s illustrations posted over my desk. It showed a covey of cute little owls upchucking on a mattress, this, to portray a mondegreen from “Help Me, Rhonda.”
What the Beach Boys sang was, “Well since she put me down, I’ve been out doin’ in my head….”
What some people heard was: “Well since she put me down, there’ve been owls pukin’ in my bed.”
Hey. I didn’t say the mondegreen had to make sense. Although some do.
On a website devoted to misheard lyrics, www.kissthisguy.com, there’s a post from a Canadian woman who notes that her 4-year-old son thought their national anthem ended not with “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” but “Oh Canada, we stand on cars and freeze.”
Not that farfetched.
As for our own anthem, consider “. . . Pilgrims bursting in air.”
Then we have classic Dylan: “The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind, the ants are a-blowin’ in the wind.”
Or Simon and Garfunkel: “Captain Picard’s on the New Jersey Turnpike.”
Patsy Cline: “I call for pizzas.”
Johnny Cash: “I’m stuck in a wholesome prison.”
Or U2, “Where the sheeps have lo mein.”
Titles can also be misheard.
I was in a NYC pub where someone asked that the band play Paul McCartney’s “Mulligan’s Tired.”
As for why “mondegreen,” here’s the story: The term dates to the 1950s and was coined in an essay by author Sylvia Wright, who told of how, as a child, she had misheard a line in an old Scottish ballad, “The Bonny Earl o’ Murray.”
The song begins:
Ye highlands and ye lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray,
And laid him on the green.
She thought it referred to a double murder: “They hae slain the Earl o’ Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”
Considering that the ballad is written partially in Scottish dialect, I’m surprised that’s all she misheard.
— Karen Zautyk
P.S. One free copy of The Observer to the first person (NOT from the Woodstock generation) who can identify the headline on this column. No googling!
P.P.S. On another matter entirely: During this sultry weather, please provide a dish of water for the wild birds. The poor things are hopping around with their beaks open. Birds get thirsty, too.